On Twitter this weekend, the famed biologist and internet crank Richard Dawkins said that Ahmed Mohamed — the 14-year-old who was arrested after a homemade clock he brought to school was mistaken for a hoax bomb — had committed fraud by pretending to have invented the clock in question. Even worse, Dawkins went on to speculate that Mohamed engineered the situation for personal gain, suggesting that he perhaps "wanted" to be arrested.
The reaction is typical of Dawkins, seizing upon the tiniest, most irrelevant factual point of order simply to add his voice to the conversation and crowbar in his own agenda. Looking at the evidence on the web (including a video Dawkins linked to), it does seem likely that the clock that got Mohamed arrested wasn't made from scratch, but it hardly seems like it should need pointing out that this doesn't matter in the slightest.
@I_Love_Atheism Because he disassembled & reassembled a clock (which is fine) & then claimed it was his "invention" (which is fraud).— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) September 20, 2015
@HarryStopes I don't know. Possibly wanted to be arrested? Police played into his hands? Anyway, now invited to White House, crowdfunded etc— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) September 20, 2015
Ignoring the fact that it's fine to say you "made" something even if you didn't smelt all the original materials (would you tell a child off for saying they made you a cake using ready-made cake mix?), Dawkins is ignoring the wider context of the situation. Mohamed's story has triggered important conversations about Islamophobia in the US and the institutional prejudice faced by people of color (especially young people of color), but instead, Dawkins is annoyed that a young boy might be getting credit and attention for something he didn't do. He doesn't sound like a scientist or a respected intellectual, but a bratty kid in Mohamed's class.
Unfortunately, this is just par for the course when it comes to Dawkins on Twitter, where his inability to see the bigger picture (or just read his own tweets aloud before he posts them) have turned him into a caricature. He doesn't seem to understand the effect of his words, and it'd be sad to see if his remarks weren't so frequently racist or sexist.
Dawkins' obsession with minutiae has made him petty and small-minded
A good scientist is always ready to question assumptions and worry at those little pieces of a puzzle that don't quite fit. In a world of evidence and hypotheses, these traits are valuable, leading to new theories and discoveries. When applied to human beings, though, this sort of thinking leads to pettiness, narcissism, and small-minded self-righteousness. Dawkins never seems to understand the difference.
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, he admitted that he does sometimes go too far online. "I think there is a curious desire in humans, maybe not all humans but certainly in me, to put things right," he told the paper. "There’s a joke in The New Yorker or something like that, of a man at a computer. It’s obviously very late and his wife is begging him to come to bed. He’s saying, ‘I can’t come to bed. Somebody’s wrong on the internet.’" Richard, it's you.